Everything You Need To Know About Eggplant
The eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, making it related to potatoes and tomatoes. But did you know eggplants are actually a fruit, even though they are consumed as vegetables?
Eggplants are found in many cuisines, as they have subtle flavours and meaty textures which makes them especially versatile for cooking. The flesh of an eggplant acts like a sponge, absorbing the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with.
There are many varieties of eggplant to choose from, in various colours, shapes and sizes. They can range from small and young to large and mature.
The most common variety is the large Globe eggplant. These purple, pear-shaped eggplants have smooth and glossy skin, and are often used in hearty dishes like eggplant parmesan.
Italia eggplants look like smaller versions of the common pear-shaped variety. However, the skin and flesh is more delicate than its larger counterpart.
Japanese eggplants are long, thin, and very dark in colour. They take on a soft and creamy texture when cooked, and have a mildly sweet flavour. These are best used in sautéed dishes or stir-fries.
Chinese eggplants are a bit lighter in colour and are slightly less sweet than the Japanese variety. They have a meaty flesh that is ideal for sautéed dishes or stir-fries.
Indian eggplants are small and round, with dark purple skin. These tender eggplants cook quickly, and have a mild sweet flavour.
White eggplants are available in a variety similar to the large common type, as well as smaller Italian eggplants called Bianco. You can also find white Japanese eggplants. White eggplant tends to have a tougher skin and a more astringent flavour than purple ones.
Sicilian eggplant are deep purple, short and squat, and lined with ridges. Sweet and delicate in taste, these eggplants are perfect for making caponata.
How to Select and Store Eggplant
When purchasing an eggplant, look for firmness and heaviness. It should also have smooth and evenly coloured skin. Avoid eggplants with shrivelled skin, as they are likely to be bitter.
To check for ripeness, press lightly on the skin with your fingers; if the imprint remains visible, the eggplant is ripe and perfect for eating.
Eggplants bruise easily and should be handled carefully. Store eggplant in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge for up to one week.
To Freeze Eggplant, wash and cut into slices, then blanch. Allow the eggplant to cool completely before placing in a freezer safe bag or container and storing in the freezer. Eggplant will keep in the freezer for 6 to 8 months.
How to Prepare Eggplant
Eggplant flesh discolours quickly when cut, it’s best to cook it immediately after cutting. If you need to, you can sprinkle it with lemon juice to slow the browning process.
To reduce the bitterness of an eggplant, cut into slices and salt both halves. Weigh them down with a heavy plate for 20 minutes, then rinse to remove the excess salt and expelled liquid.
Important to note: 1 pound of eggplant = 3 ½ cups chopped or 1 ¾ cup cooked.
How to Bake Eggplant: Cut eggplant into ½ inch thick slices; brush all sides with oil. Arrange in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a 450° oven until well browned and soft when pierced (20 to 30 minutes).
How to Grill Eggplant: Cut off stem end, then cut in 1½ inch-thick wedges. Grill until streaked with brown and tender when pierced (12 to 15 minutes).
How to Pan-fry Eggplant: Prepare 1 to 1¼ pounds of eggplant, cutting it into ½ inch-thick slices and sprinkle with salt. Heat 1 tablespoons of oil in a wide, non-stick, frying pan over medium heat. Add a single layer of eggplant, without crowding; cook, turning as needed, until browned on both sides and soft throughout when pierced (8 to 10 minutes). Lower heat to medium if eggplant browns too quickly.
- Eggplant flesh is like a sponge, so it will absorb oil very quickly when pan-frying, leaving your eggplant greasy and unevenly cooked. To avoid this, salt the cubed eggplant and let it rest in a colander for 30 minutes. Then squeeze dry between two sheets of paper towel. Salting the eggplant will remove its moisture and pressing it will compact the eggplant making it meaty. Now it’s ready to pan-fry!
- Another way to extract moisture before pan-frying sliced eggplant is to microwave it. Toss eggplant with a little salt, place on a plate lined with paper towel and microwave until eggplant looks dry and slightly shriveled, about 6 to 10 minutes.
- The longer the eggplant is cooked, the softer and silkier it will become.
- If the skin of an eggplant is very thick, it’s best to peel it off, especially if you’re serving it in chucks or slices.
- Eggplant browns quickly, so don’t cut it until you’re ready to cook.
Eggplant Goes Well With
Produce: bell pepper, coconut, garlic, ginger, lemon, onions, parsley, tomatoes, zucchini
Herbs & Spices: basil, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, mint, parsley, pepper, rosemary, salt, thyme
Other: anchovies, bread, cheese, chickpeas, milk, olive oil, tahini paste, sesame, soy sauce, vinegar
Eggplant Serving Ideas
Photo credit: Sofia of The Land We Live On
Eggplant is delicious hot or cold, and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. It is excellent stuffed, grilled, roasted, au gratin, pureed, or as a casserole. It is an essential ingredient in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine, where it is often prepared with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. You can also use eggplant slices in place of lasagne noodles for a lower-carb family favourite!
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, the nutritional value per 1 cup (250 ml) of boiled, drained eggplant using the daily recommended intake from Health Canada is: 6.8% folate, 5% of Vitamin B-6, 4.8% of magnesium, 3.7% of potassium, and 3.1% of copper.